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21 August 2012

Assessments are awesome

By Andrew Clifford

As well as gathering facts and supporting decision making, an effective assessment process clarifies objectives, encourages collaboration, and builds buy-in for change.

Most of my work these days involves helping organisations carry out assessments. I get involved in different sorts of assessments - shared services, information security, governance, transformation initiatives, and so on. But whatever sort of assessment we are doing, we get a whole load of benefits over and above the primary objective of the assessment itself.

Defining what we want to know clarifies objectives. At the start of most exercises, the objective for the process is generally high-level and vague, such as "identify opportunities for improving shared services". As part of the assessment process, this objective is broken down into specific questions to be answered, and rules about how the answers will be treated. This forces a detailed analysis of the objective, for example classifying opportunities for improvement, or articulating rules for compliance. Even before we start gathering information, we have created a more detailed view of what the organisation is aiming for.

The fact-gathering process is a major knowledge-sharing exercise for the organisation and helps the organisation collaborate more closely. Assessment involves building definitive lists of whatever is being assessed, such as projects, or systems, or IT services, and answering standard questions for each item. The process is very collaborative, and is often the first time the organisation has worked closely across different teams. As well as understanding more about each other's areas, the assessment process creates loads of opportunities for tactical improvements.

Assessment gives management confidence to act more decisively. In the assessments I have been involved in, management often have a good grasp of what needs to be done, but they are held back by two things: they can not back up their "gut feel" with facts; and they are not confident that they fully understand the areas that have not recently been the focus of their attention. Assessment helps both of these. It shows how management's high-level perceptions of the situation can be traced back (or not) to real facts. It also demonstrates that the less well known areas have been examined. Effective assessment makes it much easier for management to be confident of their decisions and justify further investment.

Assessment helps build buy-in. People are often concerned about change, but asking them their opinions and getting them involved in fact-finding warms them up to the process. People who could be hostile to change become very enthusiastic for assessments because they see it as a way of getting their views across to management.

At the end of the process, the assessment delivers on its primary objective, such as identifying areas for improvement, assessing compliance, providing details for a transformation programme, or whatever. But along the way it delivers much more - a more detailed sense of direction, closer collaborative working, more confident and better justified decisions, and greater buy-in. On a personal level, although assessments may appear dull, it is a much more interesting and rewarding activity than it may seem. When you get into them, assessments are awesome.

Next: Precision and simplification

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